Community Education

As Jefferson County Public Schools investigates why an incident led to police officers kicking and using a Taser on a student at Jeffersontown High School last week, social justice groups are asking why there’s policing in schools in the first place.

Representatives from Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice, the Fairness Campaign, Black Lives Matter Louisville and other groups rallied Tuesday outside of JCPS’ VanHoose Education Center. The groups were protesting policing in the district’s public schools and what they see as unfair way schools treat black students.

Derek Penwell, a pastor at Douglas Boulevard Christian Church, said people should speak out against acts disparaging blacks.

“Racism doesn’t depend on our feelings or our intentions, it’s acting, or failing to act, in ways that perpetuate systems of power by the majority which continually denies protection to, and produces disparate outcomes, to people of color,” Penwell said. “Racism is getting used to seeing video of black and brown kids, in this case in their own schools, brutalized by law enforcement.”

The video, posted by social justice activist Shaun King, shows officers detaining a student after the school’s security resource officer requested backup. In the video, one police officer can be seen kicking a student while two other officers hold him down on the ground. The video skips forward and purportedly shows a police officer using a Taser on that student.

But Jeffersontown Police point to a second video, showing the moment that student hit an officer as justification. A copy of the video posted by WAVE3 shows an unidentified student strike an officer before two other officers gather and start kneeing the student.

ACLU of Kentucky Executive Director Michael Aldridge said law enforcement shouldn’t be part of school culture. He spoke at the gathering Tuesday, saying schools should rethink security and fund more student-centered resources.

“The ACLU believes that children should be educated, not incarcerated,” Aldridge said. “The capacity for school policing to turn against students instead of protecting them has always existed. And it continues to pose a first-line threat to the civil rights and civil liberties of young people – particularly, young people of color.”

JCPS Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio launched a review into the incident last week, though he declined to say whether police acted appropriately. Jeffersontown Police Chief Kenneth Hatmaker supported his officers’ actions and said the incident could’ve turned deadly had the officers responded differently.

Audit Found Issues With JCPS Restraint Policies

Though the incident turned public attention to Jeffersontown High School, a state audit has already concluded discipline is an issue in the entire JCPS system.

A Kentucky Department of Education management audit started earlier this year found JCPS has a “significant lack of understanding” on the use of physical restraint and seclusion. It found “unnecessary” use of physical restraint and seclusion where students behavior didn’t endanger themselves or others. From the audit:

There is a significant lack of understanding throughout the district regarding 704 KAR 7:160, Use of Physical Restraint and Seclusion in Public Schools. As a result of this lack of understanding, the district maintains policies and procedures regarding physical restraint and section that are inconsistent with the regulation (e.g. school resource officers not trained in positive behavioral supports and interventions). Interviews and observations indicate the prevalence of physical restraints such as mechanical, prone or supine restraints as well as unnecessary use of physical restraint and seclusion where the student’s behavior did not pose an imminent danger of physical harm to self or others, in direct violation of 704 KAR 7:160.

The ongoing audit also found JCPS lacks coordinated data collection on students’ behavior, troubling its approach to disciplining student and failing state standards. Sixteen of the 22 deficiencies involved “physical restraint and seclusion.”

JCPS Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio addressed the findings in a letter to the state Commissioner of Education on Oct. 31, welcoming further work with the state and including a corrective action plan to address the deficiencies. That was one day before the police were called to Jeffersontown High.

The JCPS Board of Education will meet tonight at 7 p.m., but its agenda does not include specific discussion of the incident at Jeffersontown High. But the agenda does include discussion on the state audit and JCPS’ attempts to address its use of physical restraint and seclusion.

A spokesperson for Jefferson County Public Schools did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.